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Even when it ain't racing, LVMS a fine landing spot


A few minutes before noon on Thursday, a strapping fellow with huge forearms named Ryan Winther pulled an official LDA Callaway XHOT Driver — bigger than the biggest of Berthas — from his golf bag. Big hitter, this guy Winther. Bigger than the Dalai Lama in “Caddyshack.”

Winther was standing on a platform in Section 310, Row 35 of the Dale Earnhardt Terrace rising from Turn 4 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Not quite halfway up. He placed an official TopFlite XL on a tee that looked like one of Eva Longoria’s stiletto heels.

He gripped it. He ripped it.

The golf ball sailed in a majestic arc, mostly because arcs always are majestic. Then it turned into a little white speck. It re-entered the earth’s atmosphere near the start-finish line of the NASCAR track below, then hooked to the left. Good thing it hooked to the left or it might had lapped Danica Patrick. Again.

The assembled media oohed and aahed. Former Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman, on his first martini (or second, because it was almost noon), lifted his glass in a toast.

A walkie-talkie cackled. “Four hundred thirty yards,” a voice said.

Ryan Winther stepped to the microphone. He didn’t say he “got all of that one” because the big hitters always think they left a little something on the tee box. But Winther admitted he got most of that one. Then he put his shoes and socks back on, which is what they say in golf and also in baseball when somebody takes a really big hack at one.

This happened during the official announcement that the finals of the RE/MAX World Long Drive Championship would be moving to LVMS on Oct. 30. The preliminary rounds will continue in Mesquite from Sept. 18 to 27. There is no Earnhardt Terrace in Mesquite; this may explain why NBC and not the Golf Channel will televise the finals this year.

Having witnessed it live, it’s way more cool to watch a big hitter do his thing in the Earnhardt Terrace than to watch a NASCAR fan on his 14th beer do his thing up there.

“We used to say we were one of the most diverse racing facilities in the world,” speedway president Chris Powell said upon removing his wood cover and taking a few practice swings of his own. “Now we just say we’re one of the world’s most diverse facilities.”

And that’s putting it mildly, because the 300,000-plus who attend the Electric Daisy Carnival over a three-day weekend in June are more diverse than President Obama’s cabinet.

The EDC is hopped-up proof that LVMS can be much more than a NASCAR track when creative juices flow and numbers on the bottom line are big and green and are preceded by a dollar sign.

While Las Vegas has hemmed and hawed and stuttered and stopped — but mostly stopped — when it comes to building a new sports stadium, the way Powell sees it, we’ve already got one. Financing has been approved. The shovels were in the ground a long time ago out at LVMS.

I’ve said before that Powell sees himself as the George Bernard Shaw of Las Vegas sports: While some local fans see things as they are and ask why, he sees 140,000 seats and acres and acres of land and says why not?

He’s even talking about putting a football field in the tri-oval and erecting some temporary grandstands and hosting a college football game, maybe in December, when the daytime weather mostly is decent and there’s six weeks between games for some of these bowl teams.

Pat Christenson, Las Vegas Events president, is keen on the speedway hosting a couple of more of these Bonnaroo-type music festivals. Woodstock on wheels. California Jam XL. Are Emerson, Lake & Palmer and Deep Purple still alive/together?

But Christenson thinks you would need a marquee team or teams to fill a lot of seats out at the speedway. He said a lot of these marquee teams would find it hard to justify moving a home game from an 80,000-seat stadium that generates millions to a makeshift field with less-than-ideal sightlines for perhaps fewer millions.

To which I would point out the sightlines for hockey at Michigan Stadium are pretty lousy, and yet 74,544 turned out to watch rivals Michigan and Michigan State wield high sticks and change on the fly in 2001.

People love sporting events held in nontraditional settings, such as on aircraft carriers. And people also love traveling to Las Vegas to watch State U. play. Especially people with stuffy-sounding names with initials and roman numerals and lots of money for new library wings and football training facilities.

Perhaps putting on a neutral-site college football classic at the speedway is only so much pie in the sky. But I say if a man can blast a golf ball 430 yards from halfway up the Earnhardt Terrace in Turn 4, bring on the Dalai Lama.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.

 

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